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The political economy of high skills: higher education in knowledge societies

Durazzi, Niccolo (2018) The political economy of high skills: higher education in knowledge societies. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.pdk1nshltwa3


A successful transition into the knowledge economy is said to depend upon higher level skills, creating unprecedented pressure on university systems – as they expand across countries – to provide knowledge-based labour markets with the skills needed. But what are the political economy dynamics underlying national patterns of high skill formation? This thesis argues that existing theoretical approaches are not well-suited to answer the question: ideational and structuralist frameworks downplay persistent national differences, while institutionalist accounts assume that national differences rest upon the very lack of higher education expansion in some countries, downplaying the crossnational trend of higher education expansion. The thesis proposes a framework that accounts for distinct national trajectories of high skill formation within the convergent trend of higher education expansion. In particular, two crucial variables are identified to theorise the relationship between higher education systems and knowledge-based labour markets: (i) the predominant type of knowledge economy in a given country; and (ii) the degree of inter-university competition across different higher education systems. It is argued that the former explains what type of higher level skills will be sought by employers and cultivated by governments, while the latter helps understanding of why some higher education systems are more open at the outset to satisfy labour market demands compared to others, determining whether institutional change in a given higher education system is likely to be encompassing or marginal. Cross-national descriptive statistics and systematic process analysis across a set of diverse country case studies (Britain, Germany and South Korea) are used to test the theory. By highlighting the agency of universities, governments and businesses and by linking higher education policy with knowledge-based growth strategies, this thesis provides a theoretical and empirical contribution on processes of institutional change in higher education and on broader trajectories of institutional change across advanced capitalist countries.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2018 Niccolo Durazzi
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Social Policy
Supervisor: Fleckenstein, Timo and Exley, Sonia

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